SynopsisIn this passage Jesus sends the Apostles out on their own—that is, without him—to proclaim that people should repent, and to cast out unclean spirits. He gives them authority over the unclean spirits (verse 7 (ESV)), and some instructions for the journey:
- They aren’t supposed to take anything with them, not even food or money
- They are to wear their sandals, but not bring or wear extra tunics
- Whenever they enter a new place, whatever house they stay at first they are to continue staying at until they leave that region. (This is my interpretation of Jesus’s meaning; his actual words in verse 10 (ESV) are: “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there.”
- If a particular place will not receive or listen to the Apostles, they are to shake off the dust from their feet when they leave as a testimony against them.
ThoughtsThe first thing that interests me about this passage is that it exists at all: Jesus is sending the Apostles out without him. The overall impression we get throughout the Gospels is that the disciples in general and the Apostles in specific don’t always “get it” when it comes to Jesus’ ministry, and though they are sometimes praised by Jesus they are more often criticized for not understanding what is going on. So on one level I’d expect Jesus to want them to better understand His message before sending them out on their own; couldn’t the time that they were gone have been better spent in further instruction and teaching? But the message for me is that one doesn’t need to understand things perfectly to be sent out by God to spread His Word. This is directly applicable to us when we give the Gospel: we should strive to understand it properly and to deliver it properly, but even when we don’t God can use it for His purposes.
Jesus’ instructions to the Apostles as to how they were to go out—don’t bring any extra money, don’t bring any food, just wear what you’re wearing and go—seem to have two purposes: 1) there is an aspect of dependence on God to supply their needs, and 2) it harkens back to the Exodus, and the way the Israelites were to eat the Passover.
There’s another interesting aspect to this passage, which is Jesus instructing the Apostles to “shake the dust off their feet” when they leave a region which has rejected them. This was a Jewish custom of the time, which they would follow when leaving a Gentile region, and later on it became a custom of missionaries when people rejected the Gospel. When I wrote the post on Matthew 10:5–15 I mentioned my assumption that this Jewish custom has to do with not wanting to be unclean by even having the Gentiles’ dust clinging to them; I still think this is the case, and think it’s why Jesus tells his Apostles to do the same: when we give the Gospel to people, whether they accept it or not, we are [obviously] going to be interacting with them, and probably conversing with them and exchanging worldviews. There is always a danger that some of their beliefs will “rub off” on us, or cling to us like the dust of a Gentile region. I think Jesus is symbolically telling his Apostles not to let the peoples’ beliefs cling to them.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t listen to people when we give them the Gospel. In fact I’d argue quite the opposite. I think we need to be as sympathetic and empathetic as possible, and really try to understand where people are coming from, so that we can better deliver the Gospel to them in a way that they’ll understand. We can’t just talk at them, we have to talk with them. (In the past I’d sometimes invited Jehovah’s Witnesses into my apartment, and they would try to evangelize me and I’d try to evangelize them. When I moved into my current house there was a new guy who would come around and in the beginning I tried to do the same but it was impossible to have a conversation with him because he would refuse to listen. I don’t mean he wouldn’t hear the Gospel—I was expecting that—I mean he wouldn’t engage in two-sided conversation, he would simply talk over me any time I’d try to speak. So I’ve had to stop talking to him, because I simply can’t converse.)
Personally, I believe that this is especially true in multicultural environments, like my city of Toronto, partially because a lot of the disagreements that will arise can be more cultural than theological and partially because explaining the Gospel to a Muslim vs. explaining it to a Hindu vs. explaining it to a lapsed Christian vs. explaining it to an Atheist can be a very different conversation. If you simply have a script you want to follow, and refuse to deviate from that script, the conversation will quickly get derailed and the person you’re talking to will be right in thinking that you never wanted to have a conversation at all, you just wanted to steamroll over them. Instead, be prepared to actually talk with the person and understand what they’re saying, just as you want them to understand what you’re saying, and then let the Gospel do its work.
Of course, in order for this work you need to know your stuff. In other words, you have to actually understand the Gospel and know your Bible. When you get into an actual religious conversation with someone you never know where the conversation will lead, so you should be prepared to go there. Have the honest conversation. Most of the people you’ll talk to aren’t stupid, they have a reason for believing what they believe, and despite what you might think in 99% of the cases it will be more than just blindly believing what their parents have taught them. They’ll have thought things through to a greater or lesser extent, and it will make sense to them, so pretty much by definition you’ll be trying to present them with ideas that won’t initially make sense because your ideas will conflict with ideas that they’ve already internalized.
I’ve taken all of this space to say that we should listen to people when we give them the Gospel; to converse with them rather than speaking at them, and actually listen to what they are saying. But this two-way conversation doesn’t mean that we accept all of their ideas either! This goes back to knowing our stuff; we need to see to it that nobody takes us “captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8 (ESV)). This isn’t always easy; sometimes it’s easier than others. But we should shake this metaphorical dust off of our feet, and not let non-Christian philosophies cling to us.
But perhaps I should also state the obvious: We can’t shake that dust off of our metaphorical feet unless we actually go out and collect it in the first place—we have to actually give the Gospel to people who need it, or there will be nothing to shake off. That brings us full circle back to the beginning of the thoughts on this post: we may not give it perfectly, but we do have to give it. Let God take care of the rest.